Dil Chahta Hai was a watershed in the history of Bollywood, purely for how it was perhaps the first time that urban college-going students were shown speaking and dressing in ways that sounded and looked realistic, as opposed to the “Maa main pass ho gya” good-boy and “Khambe jaisi khadi hai”-singing bad boy stereotype. A feel-good heart warming story of friendship Dil Chahta Hai struck a chord in the heart of many movie-goers and would possibly be in most people’s list of favorites.
Athough I appreciated how different it was in look and feel from old world Bollywood, I personally did not love Dil Chahta Hai so much mainly because at an emotional level I could not connect with the story of three friends who drive a Mercedes to Goa, go to hep discos and then manage their dad’s business in Australia.
The reason was of course very personal.
I grew up in a middle class family in Calcutta and having studied in practically a boys-only engineering college with friends from similar financial backgrounds for whom hanging out meant a cigarette or a pastry from Monginis while sitting on the green grass, the world of Sid, Sameer and Akash was very much out of my realm of experience, though I understand that many people who go to college would find themselves reflected in “Dil Chahta Hain”.
Just not me.
In Three Idiots, I can say that I finally found a little bit of myself on the screen.
No actually not just “a little bit”.
A lot of me.
Which is why, despite its faults, I loved Three Idiots.
Because this was the first time that a movie about college was not about cool clothes, hot chicks, fast cars and dance fests. Instead the focus was on pressure, fear of failure, coping with family and authority and most importantly the struggle between who others want you to be and who you want to be yourself. A struggle I myself experienced since I went to engineering school, like one of the protagonists, not because I had a love for engineering (I wanted to be a novelist/journalist) but because it guaranteed me the most secure future.
When one of the characters unwittingly reads a speech “remixed” without his knowledge (watch the movie to understand what I am saying), I laughed aloud because it reminded me of how I would take SFI/DSF (college political parties) pamphlets and then read them out in class after modifying their passionate rhetoric with a few apposite words replaced or inserted, much to the merriment of the class.
Several scenes and plot-points reminded me of things that I personally experienced in college and in high school (my high school being a far more competitive and stressful place than my college, where your worth at least in front of the teachers was determined by how many marks you got).
I could see a friend I knew in the character of the ultra-competitive Chatur, and the “engineer by nature” Rancho (Aamir Khan) and saw bits of myself in Farhan(Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) . And when in a very astute observations on human nature, a character says that what hurts more than seeing a friend fail is to see a friend succeed, I just could not help but chuckle in agreement at the genuineness of that “confession”.
The credit for why Three Idiots works must go primarily to Rajkumar Hirani and to the very intelligent and equally funny script with several laugh-out loud moments that kept me continously engaged and invested in the fate of the characters. The technical work is top-notch and some of the camera-work breathtaking. Performance-wise Madhavan, Sharman Joshi and Aamir Khan are winners none less than the other, performances doubly creditable because they don’t really look like college students any more (My wife would disagree of course—according to her there wouldnt be many college students who look as cute as Aamir Khan).
Not that Three Idiots is without its failings. For one, the love-story disturbed the marvelous chemistry between the three friends as I felt turning off as soon as Kareena came on the screen waiting for the three idiots to come together again. More importantly, there were several places where the humor was forced and heavy-handed often coming dangerously close to Johnny Lever territory especially the cartoonish Chatur the “Silencer” and Boman Irani’s “Munnaibhai MBBS”-redux stern authoritarian act. Not that these characters were not interesting or out-of-place or unrealistic but sometimes they just so much overdid their character traits that they became caricatures rather than human beings.
But then these are minor jars when something strikes home as beautifully as Three Idiots causing that one thing film-makers and novelists strive for—a direct critical hit on the heart.
Highly, highly recommended.